After sharpening her knives as an apprentice in three of London’s finest restaurants– Moro, St.John's and the River Café – Blanche went onto publish two widely acclaimed books: 'In One Pot' and 'Egg'. She is currently the food editor of House and Garden.
RdV: It’s so nice to see you. Here, have a pair of cabbages.
BV: NO. You’re so sweet. You know what, I was looking at some ornamental cabbages on Instagram yesterday and I thought what a great thing because they are so beautiful.
RdV: Did you do a lot of cooking growing up?
BV: Yes, my mother has had her own vegetable garden for quite a long time now which is one of the most inspiring things about going home. You go into the garden and you see what’s lovely and you decide what to cook based on that.
RdV: Can you remember your first adventure as a child?
BV: We sailed round the Turkish islands on my uncle’s yacht. It was fantastic. Each day we’d anchor in a different cove and walk through the scrub to find a restaurant. I can still remember the smell of the cooking over wood fires…
RdV: And where was this photo of you in the robe taken? It looks like a wonderful garden...
BV: Some friends of ours run a hideaway hotel on the coast at Oualidia in Morocco and we went to stay with them. I loved it so much we went out again last Christmas and I proposed to them the idea of doing a food story for House and Garden.
RdV: What’s amazing is that the house doesn’t scream Moroccan medina with all the pompoms and tassels…
BV: It’s a fascinating place. The couple come from a film and art background and have such great taste. They’ve got a wonderful vegetable garden and a natural swimming pool with a wall of reeds which filters the water and shields them from the valley below. I think it’s the only one of its kind in Morocco.
RdV: What was the House and Garden concept?
BV: It was about cooking at their house and being inspired by all the incredible local ingredients. They have these wonderful fish auctions around the lagoon and because of the climate in Morocco, the produce from their garden is in season most of the time.
RdV: Did you have to take any secret ingredients with you?
BV: I always travel with pomegranate molasses. And jalapeno chili flakes! Normally on a food shoot the shopping comes from Ocado but here we did our shopping in the souk which was wonderful.
RdV: Do you go back into your memories and remember fantastic meals?
BV: Funnily enough there’s a recipe in my book 'In One Pot' that I learnt in Morocco quite a long time ago. I was staying at a friend’s house for New Year and I went into the kitchen to talk to the lady who was cooking and she explained she was making Medfouna, which is basically buried braise. You use this wonderful scented aromatic meat, chicken or lamb, and you bury it in a pyramid of vermicelli or couscous and then put strips of cinnamon and icing sugar and toasted almonds on top. What happens is that the guests dig into it and discover all this delicious stuff inside so it’s really nice and evocative to eat.
RdV: Are you always thinking “What shall I cook next?”
BV: It’s on my mind 24/7.
RdV: And do you go foraging?
BV: I love foraging. Have a look on the House and Garden website– they’ve made a little film of me foraging for nettles.
RdV: Nettles, of course…
BV: We made nettle risotto and nettle tagliatelle. I think they’re delicious. They’re like a super food and they’re abundant obviously.
RdV: What did you bring back from Morocco?
BV: I brought 5kg of almonds back last time to make almond milk which is what we just had in our coffee. I’m a big fan of protein as a nutritional element. I’m not a big fan of raw as it’s a bit difficult to digest. I think the most valuable things are freshness.
RdV: What do you read on your travels?
BV: I went to Italy a couple of times this summer and I re-read a fascinating book called The Land Where Lemons Grow which is about citrus production in Italy. I also read The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe when I was in Capri because it was there in a villa in Capri that he wrote it. Last year in Provence I took Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking just to kind of dip into because everything comes to life.